During a shootout in a preseason game in London, Ontario, a banana peel was thrown at Wayne Simmonds, a Philadelphia Flyers winger who is one of the NHL’s few black players.
It missed Simmonds, who scored as the Flyers lost 4-3 at John Labatt Centre and Simmonds, 23, told Philly.com he saw it out of the corner of his eye.
“When you’re a black man playing in a predominantly white man’s sport, you’ve got to come to expect things like that,” Simmonds said. “Over the past 23 years of my life, I’ve come to expect some things like that. But I’m older and more mature now, I kind of just left things roll off [my back]. I try not to think about stuff like that.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, in a statement issued Friday morning: “We have millions of great fans who show tremendous respect for our players and for the game. The obviously stupid and ignorant action by one individual is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”
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Simmonds quickly drew support from other NHL players, via Twitter. Chris Stewart of the St. Louis Blues tweeted: “The incident that happened in london tonight involving my best friend wayne simmonds was simply disgusting, its 2011 ppl need to grow up.”
Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks tweeted: “Wayne Simmonds is a good friend of mine. To hear what happened to him in my hometown is awful. No need for this in sports or life.”
The fan who threw the banana was not apprehended.
“I don’t know if it had anything to do with the fact I’m black,” Simmonds said. “I certainly hope not. When you’re black, you kind of expect [racist] things. You learn to deal with it.”
The taunt isn’t a new one for black hockey players (and reportedly a banana was thrown at Simmonds earlier in the same game). Kevin Weekes, a former goalie who is now a commentator for “Hockey Night inCanada,” was targeted in 2002 when he was playing for the Carolina Hurricanes.
“For those that asked: I’m extremely disappointed with what happened to Wayne Simmonds tonight in London, Ont.,” Weekes tweeted. “We’ve taken huge steps to grow the game ... There’s no place for this in sports, since sport connects us, not divides us. Much love to all of the true and classy NHL fans.”
Weekes tweeted that he’s in Washington, D.C., where he and Willie O’Ree, the first black NHL player in 1958, are delegates — the NHL’s first — to the Congressional Black Caucus.